MADISON, Wis. -- The deli department is smack in the middle of some of the most important and complex movements in the industry today.
i is grappling with it.
That's where deli belongs, according to the leadership of the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association, based here. The trade association is itself challenged with meeting the needs of deli retailers and suppliers -- as well as the dairy and bakery industries -- in a climate of rapid change.
"The focus used to be on making a bigger profit than last year, but for many, just staying in business is a major goal," said Carol Christison, executive director of IDDA, in an interview with SN.
To help its members reach that goal and beyond, IDDA is assembling a category management program geared specifically to deli, urging retailers to increase the level of training they give their deli and bakery associates, and exploring other ways to face the future through its next five-year plan.
SN: What are the major issues facing the industry this year, and how is IDDA helping retailers deal with them?
CHRISTISON: The year may change, but the issues seem to stay the same: labor, technology, food safety and staying in business. The focus used to be on making a bigger profit than last year, but for many, just staying in business is a major goal.
We do a lot of surveys and needs assessments, and the issue that came up over and over was the need for a category management program that covered in-store bakery and service deli.
There are systems out there but they tend to apply to grocery models to service departments, and they just don't work. There are too many labor, value-added, production, merchandising and perishability issues that aren't covered.
IDDA has committed half a million dollars to developing a program for this very important segment. We've hired Blatteberg, Chaney & Associates -- they're the same researchers who did all of the FMI category management work -- to develop this program for us.
It became very obvious that there was no industry standard or commonality of terms used on category management for the in-store bakery and service deli. One of the first things we'll be doing is developing a primer or standard. From that, we'll be doing best practice case studies and developing a computer model or template that retailers, manufacturers and brokers can use.
We're really excited about it and have been getting excellent response from retailers and manufacturers alike. The key difference between this and other category management programs is that this one will deal with the critical production, labor and ingredient issues that are missing from the grocery models.
SN: How is IDDA helping members make the most of home meal replacement opportunities? What do you think the future is for supermarkets in the HMR arena?
CHRISTISON: We're doing several things. One is just to show retailers how easy it is to use materials they have on hand to develop in-house programs. We'll have some great examples in the ShowPlace at the exposition this year, including computer-based ordering and customer interaction kiosks.
Retailers don't need blueprints, just exposure. What they do need help with is creating the awareness in the mind of the consumer that the supermarket offers a terrific alternative to the specialty food stores or other HMR outlets. When you get right down to it, the supermarket deli was the originator of HMR. We just didn't call it that. We just let others steal our ideas and make them their own.
One of the things we're doing to combat this is working with Harold Lloyd to develop an awareness campaign directed at the consumer. He calls this "drawing a line in the sand." It's sort of the Charles Atlas concept of stopping the bully by making a stand.
I love the attention that HMR has brought to supermarket food service, because it forces retailers to ask, "What business are we in?" There's only one answer: it's selling food.
When departments stop looking at each other, or at other stores, as the major threat to their profit margin and start focusing on the real threat, we'll see some innovation and a recapturing of the high ground. We've got to make the consumer see the supermarket as a destination location for meals. Period.
SN: I know you have strong feelings about the training or lack of it in in-store bakeries.
CHRISTISON: Is this where I get out my soap box? I am committed to training. Whether it's the bakery, the deli, the category manager, the broker, the manufacturer, the sign maker, it doesn't matter. Train them. I ran across a great quote last year: "The only thing worse than training an employee and losing them, was not training them and keeping them." I wish I had said that.
The investment a retailer makes in buying training programs and committing the necessary staff resources to training is returned 10 times, 50 times, over. So far, we've trained over 15,000 associates with our programs.
I get so frustrated when I talk to retailers who say, "Well, my operations guy doesn't want me to train employees because we don't want to keep them. We want short-time part-timers to keep our labor costs down."
OK, fine. It's also keeping your sales down, your customer satisfaction down, your image down and your morale down. Statistics prove that when you invest time and money in training an employee, their job satisfaction, career goals, attendance and commitment to the company expand exponentially.
We know it is not easy. But you can bet that the ones who are doing it are the market leaders. Well, they're pulling from the same labor pool. They've just made a commitment to excellence.
SN: Is IDDA continuing to put more emphasis on bakery as well as on deli? If so, why not repeat the bakery symposium you did last year?
CHRISTISON: We've got a very healthy balance between deli and bakery. They each have an equal representation in our membership and on our expo floor.
The bakery symposium was never meant as more than a one-year event. If you do something over and over without changing the format, the content, the venue, the players, it loses its appeal.
SN: What are the challenges ahead for IDDA this year and in the near future?
CHRISTISON: The biggest challenge is one that is going to give the most immediate and long-term payback. We've hired a national research company to do an in-depth telephone survey of 600 retailers, manufacturers and brokers to help us develop our next five-year plan.
Strategic planning is critical to our continued growth; we just want to make sure that the areas we're focusing on are providing solid benefits and major deliverables in terms of what our various member groups want and need. We're analyzing member and nonmember needs to make sure we're not being short-sighted in developing strategies that impact on our future growth.
SN: What projects are planned for the coming year?
CHRISTISON: We're introducing our new Web page. This project is truly the newest and one we're very excited about. It ties in with the Cyberspace, Internet theme of the show.
Initially, it will contain registration and membership information, research summaries, listings of exhibiting companies and attending retailers, our latest newsletters (all three) and data links to the FDA and other key food sites. That's Phase One; Phase Two will follow quickly and will offer expanded services and program access.
SN: What changes have you made in your show this year, either in format or focus?
CHRISTISON: I know I sound like a broken record, but the changes we have made are in direct response to our members' needs. They wanted more expo hours. We hadn't really increased them in years, and we had triple the number of exhibits with the same number of hours. Attendees just couldn't get around to all of them.